Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tampa vs. St. Pete: Half-Marathon Style

Look out, in this battle, the nipple band-aids are about to come off!

This weekend marks the inaugural St. Petersburg Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, a much-anticipated event expected to bring 10,000 people into Pinellas County.

You'll hear about the out-of-town tourism dollars pouring into St. Pete as well as raving reviews of the fun event. But you likely won't hear how the support for the new event will cost Tampa big bucks.

Tampa Bay's biggest running weekend each year is the Gasparilla Distance Classic, a series of four races - including a half marathon - held this year March 3-4. If you don't want to do the math, that's just three weeks after the St. Pete half marathon.

While Tampa and St. Pete have historically battled over the Bucs, the Rays, and even the airport, they're now (quietly) battling over runners. Why? Because putting on is a profitable business.

Most runners won't do both races, so Tampa and St. Pete (and Clearwater, which hosts its half marathon in January) are in essence battling over tourism dollars again. And the race organizers are battling over their entrance fees.

The Gasparilla Distance Classic Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit and their entry fees are generally lower than average ($25 for the 5k). But their $75/$85 entry fees for the half-marathon leaves a lot of extra money for local charities.

However, the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon is put on by a for-profit company. And while it has a solid history of charity donations, there's no way to tell exactly how much will end up in St. Petersburg. Furthermore, it's $80/$95/$105 entry fees are higher than Gasparilla's and profits will most definitely be made this weekend.

The Rock 'n' Roll has already caught some criticism, refusing to defer entry to 2013 for injured runners (most races, including Gasparilla do) and indirectly charging participants $15 for parking when they go to pick up their entry packets before the race.

Race organizing is big business and while Gasparilla will have more participants in 2012, their numbers could suffer with the new competition. Maybe that explains their new motto:

"Some cities were built on rock...others were built on roll...but in Tampa, it's all about the booty!"

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